The National Audubon Society is an organization devoted to birds. More broadly, they state their mission is "To conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity." One might expect them to be animal lovers, but one man, who thankfully lost that job today, was a bird lover alone. He went so far as to call for the execution of the enemy of their feathered friends, outdoor cats.
Audubon former editor promoted poisoning of feral cats
Less than a week ago, Ted Williams, Audubon's then editor-at-large (his byline now reads "independent columnist.") wrote an op-ed piece in Florida's Orlando Sentinel bashing TNR (Trap Neuter Return) programs like Alley Cat Allies or Best Friends does here in Utah. Even worse, Williams went so far as to encourage the public to commit acts of cruelty by poisoning cats with Tylenol.
"There are two effective, humane alternatives to the cat hell of TNR. One is Tylenol (the human pain medication) — a completely selective feral-cat poison. But the TNR lobby has blocked its registration for this use. The other is trap and euthanize."
Putting aside the debate over how well TNR works, calling Tylenol poisoning "humane" is an outright lie. According veterinarian Dr. Anne Marie Manning, DVM:
Cats are much more sensitive to acetaminophen than dogs and are therefore more susceptible to acetaminophen toxicity. One regular strength acetaminophen tablet is toxic and potentially lethal to a cat.
In addition to severe liver failure, acetaminophen causes damage to red blood cells. These include:
- Hemolysis, which is the destruction of red blood cells
- Formation of Heinz bodies, which are defects in red cells that cause them to be removed from circulation sooner than normal
- Formation of methemoglobin, a non-functional type of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin allows red blood cells to carry oxygen. When methemoglobin is formed, red blood cells cannot carry oxygen and the cat has difficulty breathing.
The symptoms of acetaminophen toxicity develop in stages. Symptoms may occur more quickly or slowly depending on the amount ingested.
- Stage 1 (0-12 hours). Symptoms include vomiting, dullness, difficulty breathing, lethargy, anorexia, weakness, development of brown-colored gums (instead of a normal pink color) and drooling.
Stage 2 (12-24 hours). Symptoms include swelling of the face, lips and limbs, uncoordinated movements, convulsions, coma and potential death.
- Stage 3 (more than 24 hours). Symptoms are associated with liver failure and include a painful belly, jaundice (yellow tinge to gums, eyes and skin) and an inappropriate mental state.
Not humane and not legal either
In the article Williams also claims TNR is illegal. He backs that claim with references to locations where feral cats are killing endangered or threatened wildlife. While TNR might not be right for every location, that does not mean the practice of TNR is illegal in most places. Ironically, Williams suggestion, poisoning cats with Tylenol, is illegal in almost every state, including Florida, the state Williams was writing for. In fact, in Florida poisoning a cat could result in a 3rd degree felony.
Here in Utah, our animal welfare has been slow going. Back in 2011 Rep. Curt Oda recommended shooting, clubbing, or decapitating cats instead of poison, though only shooting passed. Then only days ago S.B. 52 was defeated in the House. The bill would have made the blood sport of cockfighting a felony in Utah, one of only two states west of the Mississippi River where it is still only a misdemeanor. The other animal welfare bills (one would make it a misdemeanor to tether a dog for more than 10 hours, the other would restrict the sale of dogs in unregulated places such as parking lots.) have been "tabled" with little hope of being brought up again. However, even here in Utah knowingly poisoning a feral cat can be a class A misdemeanor. If that cat turns out to be a neighbor's outside kitty, and not actually feral, recent legislation means the poisoner could face a 3rd degree felony.
It's for the birds
So, how can we help birds without killing cats? First, if you have cats, make sure you are not part of the problem. Keep cats inside as much as possible. It is safer for the cats and the wildlife. Leash and harness training is a great way to let your cat get safe outside exercise with no risk to our beautiful birds.
If you are responsible for a feral colony, do it right! Well-managed colonies are much less likely to make pests of themselves. Keep them vetted, fixed, and fed. You can get advice and support from Best Friends Society near Kanab, UT. They offer educational workshops and conferences to help "Community Cat Caretakers" keep their charges healthy and out of trouble with their neighbors.
LATE BREAKING UPDATE: A triumph in justice
At first it seemed as if the Audubon Society and the Sentinel were just going to sweep this terrible business under the rug. They had the reference to Tylenol poisoning removed from the article (though Alley Cat Allies and other groups saved copies of the original for reference) and tacked a "His views do not necessarily reflect those of the National Audubon Society" on the end.
But things turned around this weekend. With the support of Alley Cat Allies, Best Friends, and many bloggers demanding apologies, the firing of Ted Williams, or even criminal charges for encouraging others to commit crimes, the Audubon Society announced on their Facebook that they were cancelling their contract with Williams. They were wise to do so. Over 31,000 Alley Cat Allies supporters responded by emailing, tweeting, blogging and using everything in their power to make their voices heard.
“... Audubon announced that Williams was suspended from writing for the magazine and would be removed from Audubon’s masthead. This was the right move, and we thank our supporters for their quick action,” said Becky Robinson, president and co-founder of Alley Cat Allies in a press release made just today. “Williams’ remarks were depraved and irresponsible. No national group advocating for the protection of animals should be associated with endorsements of pain and cruelty.”
Thank you to all who helped right this wrong by writing a note or sharing the story with a friend. Thank you Best Friends and Alley Cat Allies for always having all animals' best interests in mind. And thank you, National Audubon Society for your decision this matter and for your tireless devotion to our feathered friends!